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‘Fresh Off the Boat’ is just reverse yellow-face

As an Asian American myself, I could only connect to the show on a superficial level. Racial slurs: I get. The strangeness of white supermarkets: I get. An immigrant family dynamic: I definitely get it. What I don’t get is why this show is so clearly written for a White demographic.

“Be polite, respectful, don’t make waves,” are the words of advice that little Eddie’s mom gives her kids before their first day of school in the white-majority town of Orlando, but the controversy of being other – of being Asian – is the one thing that derails little Eddie’s ability to follow those instructions.

True to the media buzz, Fresh Off the Boat is revolutionary in terms of its representation and, like Eddie, just can’t stop making waves because of its premise – Asian main characters.

[bctt tweet=”Fresh Off the Boat is revolutionary in terms of representation.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If you’re reading this article, then you probably know that Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl (1994) was the last Asian-led TV show that ABC picked up. Knowing this, I can’t deny what it means to me and other Asian-Americans to finally see faces like ours in mainstream media and regular programming again after 20 years. I can’t begin to explain how it feels to know that the casting of an Asian family provided at least six Asian-Americans with acting jobs, taking into consideration how most of the acting roles available for them outside of this show are either nonexistent or docile and overly militant stereotypes.

But with white producers who refuse to listen to Eddie Huang, and a Persian writer who can only identify with specific and universal aspects of being other in America, I think that my skepticism shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I mean, I was hopeful. I really was. In the face of loud criticism from Eddie himself, I still wanted to believe that maybe the show was redeemable.

[bctt tweet=”I was hopeful. I really was.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I guess the producers aren’t the only ones who need to learn to trust a minority writer.

My biggest complaint, in Eddie’s own words, is that it’s “…A reverse-yellowface show with universal white stories played out by Chinamen.”

I mean, the show touched on all their cultural checkmarks–the boys in Eddie’s school make fun of his lunch, another POC calls him a chink, and his mom complains to the principal that school is too easy when he gets straight A’s. But those are all situations either taken directly from Eddie’s book or keeping in line with it. The show itself tends to deviate from the perfectly decent material in its book counterpart, and when it goes off-script, things don’t work out as well.

The humor of the show is devoted to cheap shots and is ultimately carried by the character of the Mom. In reality, there’s little to no substance to the show.

[bctt tweet=”The humor of the show is devoted to cheap shots.” username=”wearethetempest”]

From how I saw it, Fresh Off the Boat is “radical” enough to pacify weary Asian-Americans and white journalists but not radical enough to actually threaten any change.

Let me reiterate here: representation is ultimately important, and it is what this show comes down to. It comes down to being able to supply Asian actors with non-demeaning jobs and allowing Asian people to see people like themselves on regular programming.

Anything past that, however, seems lost on its producers.

As an Asian-American myself, I could only connect to the show on a superficial level. Racial slurs: I get. The strangeness of white supermarkets: I get. An immigrant family dynamic: I definitely get it.

What I don’t get is why this show is so clearly written for a white demographic. This was just a quirky white family disguised as Asians who sometimes have Asian-specific struggles with their community.

[bctt tweet=”Why is this show written for a white demographic?” username=”wearethetempest”]

I understand, on a fundamental level, that the network probably knows that white viewers are the only thing that will keep the show afloat, and so it refuses to go into any sort of unfamiliar territory. On the other hand, really? For a show that’s supposedly about representation, it seriously fails to do anything but look weak and afraid.

Representation is not the be-all, end-all in terms of social justice.

[bctt tweet=”Representation is not the be-all end-all.” username=”wearethetempest”]

What use is representation if all it does is make white people feel good about “the progress of their society”, while not actually making any progress? POC shouldn’t have to demand that their actual stories be told on TV, and they certainly shouldn’t have to sit through a white-washed version of their experiences in order to catch a glimpse of themselves on TV.

I want to say that we have to “ease into it” but if we put this show up against others of it’s kind – that is to say, shows pioneering for racial diversity – like Orange Is the New Black, I’m just disappointed. The fault most likely lies in the nature of ABC, the Disney-owned channel that the show airs on.

All in all, Fresh Off the Boat offers the sort of temporary and light-hearted entertainment that lies in the realm of mindless late-night TV and offers nothing more radical than beyond minimal representation.

It follows a predictable A and B plot format, tells mediocre jokes, while its characters range from entertaining to blatantly annoying.

Regardless of race, it’s just not that great of a show. If the Huang family was white, I’m inclined to believe that not as many people would like it to the degree that they do.

[bctt tweet=”It’s just not that great of a show.” username=”wearethetempest”]

As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux once said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

While Fresh Off the Boat was full of good intentions, it ultimately failed to fill the progressive comedy role that the media has assigned it.

2 replies on “‘Fresh Off the Boat’ is just reverse yellow-face”

1) How is your article not racist? Reading your bio you lost all credibility when it says ” fighting straight white men with Asian fetishes.” You are no less racist than those white men. You obviously have a thing against whites, so why should i take this article, or anything you write seriously you bigot?

2) The reason certain formats are used, just like in hollywood action movies, is for the sake of profit. Why reinvent the wheel when its already functioning! I personally didn’t love the show, it’s generic, and for quite a bit of this article you were right, it IS a white family with asian actors, but why is that inherently wrong? Are you implying that because people were having so much hype about it, and claiming it to be this progressive show, that it’s the shows fault for not living up to expectations? It’s been in production for much longer than its been hyped, so really the people claiming it to have been progressive should be faulted for lying (or miss judging)

3) The reason the show works the way it does is because it wouldn’t be enjoyable watching a silent, dysfunctioning, unhappy, unloving family deal with money issues and having an absentee father being at work 20 hours a day. (I assume this is what you were looking more for). This is generalizing, but this is how most asian families work. Some more americanized families might more loving and less money driven. For the most part, it is asian parents forcing their children to become doctors because all they know is doctors make $$$. They want their kids to have success and opportunity that wasn’t available to themselves, which is completely understandable.

4) The reason more asian american actors don’t have jobs is because there are far less asians in the market or acting. With less of a selection, most of the time they are rejected because they are not what the director is looking for, whether that be race, voice, sex, or acting ability. So for you to be saying there isn’t equality in the acting industry is rather dull. If i have 1 blue marble in a bag full if 99 red marbles, there is a 1% chance that i will get the blue marble, even if it wasn’t in a bag, the blue marble might be buried under the red ones. Do you understand? You cannot have equality in the acting industry if you use the terms minority and majority. The amount of different races must be the same quantity. If you want equality, make a limit to how many whites, asians, and blacks can be in the industry, and make it the same number. (of course you realise that completely orwellian)

5) Finally i notice throughout the article you have a hard-on for the idea of change. You don’t acknowledge that change is a very slow progression.

You cannot force people to change, you cannot tell a man what to think and what not to think.

I think my main issue with this article is the use of the descriptor ‘white’ as in ‘white viewer’ or ‘white family’. This term is becoming more and more obsolete, a more accurate term would be american middle/upperclass. Ultimately it is the social status that dictates the culture. I definitely understand the grief as it is a misleading title; with the name FoB, your description of the characters sound as though they are most likely portraying a third generation Asian family, which I don’t think can be considered FoB by any definition. I imagine they speak English throughout the show and hold many other American values, so it is more the plight of the Asian American who is has nearly emerged from the interim of assimilation to the culture.

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